ST. PETERSBURG — BayWalk's fortunes have moved from depressing to downright unreal.
Howard S. Rosenthal, the man who just this week was handed the keys to the downtown entertainment complex, was arrested Thursday on charges he stole almost $171,000 from the commercial real estate company where he previously worked.
Rosenthal, 53, of Safety Harbor, doubled-billed Clearwater firm Colliers Arnold for more than $140,000 in advertising costs, according to Pinellas County sheriff's detectives. He also used Colliers Arnold money to pay off country club dues, travel expenses for himself and his wife and nearly $700 in hotel movie charges, detectives said.
Pinellas detectives said they had been investigating Rosenthal since September. The timing of his arrest — two days after he was named BayWalk's interim property manager — was a coincidence, said spokeswoman Marianne Pasha.
The news actually made one BayWalk store owner laugh.
"This is unbelievable," said Mike Shapiro, who owns Shapiro's in BayWalk and first thought the report of Rosenthal's arrest was a joke. "It really sounded like he had a really complete and professional plan."
The complex has been besieged by problems for the past year. First, several stores, including Ann Taylor, closed or announced they were closing. Then movie theater Muvico said it might consider closing. Then the complex fell into foreclosure after its owner, Fred Bullard, refused to make monthly mortgage payments.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge J. Thomas McGrady scheduled a 3 p.m. emergency hearing today to reconsider Rosenthal's management of BayWalk.
Rosenthal had met with remaining store owners Wednesday and promised to launch an aggressive marketing campaign and increase complex security. A warrant was issued for his arrest the same day.
The arrest caught City Hall off guard. City senior economic development administrator Rick Mussett said the city had no knowledge Rosenthal was being investigated.
"This is the first we've heard of it," Mussett said.
It was unclear Thursday night if Rosenthal, who was released from Pinellas County Jail on a $50,000 bond, would or could continue to manage BayWalk. He did not return a message left at his Safety Harbor home or Clearwater business.
A representative of Wells Fargo, which chose Rosenthal to temporarily run BayWalk, also did not return messages seeking comment. The bank and Bullard, BayWalk's current owner, agreed to let Rosenthal run the property in advance of its Feb. 13 public auction. McGrady signed off on the order.
Officials conceded that it is unlikely any of them knew about Rosenthal's past, though a reference check with Colliers Arnold could have uncovered possible improprieties.
In court documents, Rosenthal said he had more than 26 years of commercial real estate experience. Before founding his own company, Commercial Properties Specialists, he worked for both Colliers Arnold and Grubb & Ellis.
According to detectives, Rosenthal resigned from Colliers Arnold last August as the company began to realize money had disappeared. When company IT officials asked for Rosenthal's laptop back, they found its hard drive wiped clear.
Rosenthal has no prior criminal record in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at email@example.com or (727)741-3796.